Late last year, the Idaho State Dental Association asked its 800-plus members a number of questions about their practices. One trend was both startling and disturbing.
We asked dentists whether they had seen evidence of opioid abuse among their patients. We were stunned to find that about 60 percent of respondents said yes to that question.
The days of questioning the presence of an opioid abuse epidemic are over. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscores this point: Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137 percent, including a 200 percent increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (pain relievers and heroin).
All of which is why the Idaho State Dental Association is glad to see some positive developments here that will help us all combat this epidemic.
The Legislature has passed a measure that adds an important tool in the effort against this problem. One of the catalysts of prescription drug abuse is the surplus of medications many patients find themselves with, if after time they no longer need the entire prescription’s worth of pills. Those leftover pills can be a problem for patients, leading to dependency, or for others who might have access to a patient’s medicine cabinet.
The Idaho State Board of Pharmacy proposed a measure that would give patients the option to partially fill prescriptions, working in tandem with their physicians and pharmacists. For example, if a doctor prescribes 30 pills, this would allow patients to get the drug filled with 10 pills at a time. This so-called “short fill” would help patients receive the medication they need without the burden of extra pills they may not need that could ultimately cause problems.
At the same time, the Board of Dentistry has added continuing education requirements on the Prescription Monitoring Program for dentists, to help drive awareness of this problem and of the dentist’s role in helping find solutions.
At the Idaho State Dental Association, our code of ethics covers a lot of ground, but at its core is our dedication to providing the best care for our patients. In addition to supporting these new rules, we offer ongoing, continuing education for our members on safe prescribing practices and alternatives to opioid-based pain management.
With a challenge like this, we can’t rely on one solution. So I’m pleased to see other work in the Idaho Legislature, including a measure to help the Board of Pharmacy keep track of newer synthetic opioids that are several times more potent than morphine.
When our member dentists reported on the widespread evidence of opioid abuse in their patients, we knew we had more work to do. The opioid abuse epidemic will challenge us all, and Idaho has a long way to go. But I’m grateful to report that Idaho’s dentists, with the support of the Idaho Legislature, are prepared to tackle the situation head-on.
Linda Swanstrom is the executive director of the Idaho State Dental Association.